‘Iron-jawed, copper-bellied’ — and ‘zigzaggy’!


“In North Carolina’s tobacco belt last week, tongues were wagging with happiness and hope. At last, the state had an iron-jawed, copper-bellied football team that combed its hair with lightning and ate opposing tackles for breakfast. First crack out of the box,  the ferocious University of North Carolina Tar Heels took Texas apart, 34 to 7.

“The chief wrecker was slim, 165-lb. Halfback Charlie (‘Choo Choo”) Justice. He ran like a jack rabbit, fast and zigzaggy. Against Texas, Choo Choo scored two touchdowns, threw passes for two more, modestly demurred when called upon to score another. ‘I’ve had my flurry,’ he said in the huddle. ‘Give somebody else a chance.’

“Carolina folks were mighty proud that Choo Choo, in this age of interstate commerce in footballers, was a native North Carolinian. Prosperous alumni, who pour about $100,000 yearly into a football fund, convinced him of the virtues of staying at home. Like many football heroes, Choo Choo drives a new car. He and his family live in a cozy bungalow off Chapel Hill’s main street. After he graduates, a loyal alumnus has promised to set him up with an automobile dealership.”

— From Time magazine, Oct. 11, 1948

Well, yes, Charlie Justice played under quite a different system of subsidizing college athletes. Although the NCAA had just enacted restrictions that became known as the Sanity Code, they proved unworkable and were rescinded in 1951. The now-familiar (if problematic) athletic grant-in-aid wasn’t adopted until 1957.

6 thoughts on “‘Iron-jawed, copper-bellied’ — and ‘zigzaggy’!”

  1. An interesting article from “Time” magazine, Lew. Before I comment on it, let me offer a big thank you for all the great work you do on “North Carolina Miscellany.” It’s a joy each day to follow what you and your fellow “Miscellany” team members offer.

    As you point out, NCAA restrictions were more relaxed back in 1948 when my dear friend Charlie Justice played for Carolina (1946-1949). As one might guess, there were often rumors and water-cooler conversations about what Charlie got at UNC. One story had him and wife Sarah riding around campus in a new Cadillac convertible. Another story was supposedly from a Wake Forest alum and went something like this: “Charlie’s bound to be making $15,000…we offered him that much.” And UNC’s All America end Art Weiner still likes to tell a story about his teammate, dear friend and neighbor. Art says he put a nail on the end of a stick, then cut a deal with the University that said, when the money truck backs up to Charlie’s door, any money that blew out of the truck over into his yard he could keep. Finally there was the one that said, Charlie had to take a pay cut when he signed with the Redskins. All of this makes for great roast material…but none of it is true.

    It seem as though “Time” magazine just picked up on some of the stories. I think the original intent of the “Time” article was the great start the Tar Heels had in 1948…with wins over Texas and Georgia. But somehow they got a bit off track. So let’s take things one step at a time. (1) The “new car” was a 1948 Chevrolet two-door sedan, that Charlie was still making payments on when he played his last game for Carolina in January, 1950. (2) The “cozy bungalow” was a four-room cottage in Victory Village, a housing development that sprang up on campus after World War II. While the University helped him find it, Justice paid his own rent out of the $120 a month he got from the GI Bill. Sarah Justice had the football scholarship, since Charlie was eligible for that GI Bill. I believe I’m correct when I say she is the only female to have gotten a football scholarship to Carolina. (3) As for the “loyal alumnus and the car dealership”… In a March, 1949 interview with Furman Bisher, Justice said, “I’m still looking for that fellow with automobile agency. I hope he’s around on graduation day.” He wasn’t.

  2. Thanks for your generous words, Jack. It’s a privilege to be able to participate and to share with Miscellany readers….
    I had looked forward to your response about Charlie Justice, and you didn’t let me down. What detail! Would’ve made a great letter to the editor of Time (which didn’t run any rebuttals that might have been submitted).
    Jack, how would you describe the overall money-job-alumni environment in UNC sports, circa late ’40s? Were there payments being made, even if not to Charlie?

  3. How ironic…on the day after we shared comments about Justice’s recruiting at UNC, the headline in the (Greensboro) News & Record was “NCAA Investigates UNC Athletes.”

    I don’t know that I’m qualified to answer your question, but I’ll be glad to share a few personal thoughts.

    I feel certain that during the post World War II era, highly talented football players were afforded compensation for their services on the football field…UNC and Charlie Justice included. But I can say without question that any kind of help that was accepted by my friend Charlie Justice was within the NCAA and University rules. I got to know him really well during our 37 year friendship…he played by the rules.

    I don’t recall UNC’s Athletic Director Robert (Bob) Fetzer ever talking about the subject of athletic compensation during the late 1940s. In a time when there was no television, no ESPN, no coaches shows, no filmed highlights at 11, you got very little sports news compared to today’s in-your-face, 24/7, non-stop ESPN 1,2,3, whatever.

    Charlie Justice was often interviewed for magazines and newspapers during his playing days, and then on TV in his later life. He was often asked about some of the stories that we talked about the other day. He always answered with candor. And those answers will give us a clue about what he was offered.

    In a September, 1949 interview with Lewis Burton, Charlie was asked about a rumor that High Point College had offered him a flat salary of 25 percent of the gate receipts above $500 if he would play there. With a laugh, Justice said, “that’s not true. I could have wound up rich with such a deal. I’d have had to take it.”

    Burton added, “Notre Dame was said to have gone the limit.” “Not exactly,” was Charlie’s reply. “Too far away from home, anyway.”

    “What about South Carolina,” asked Burton? Charlie said he really liked Coach Rex Enright and they “offered me just about the same as I’m getting here (at UNC).” Burton continued, “and what’s that?”

    “They gave my wife a full scholarship and agreed to find us an apartment. It was an efficiency apartment, one room, and you pulled the bed out of the wall. I got books, laundry, and a $50 a month board.” After son Ronnie was born in August of 1948, “they allowed me a house. I pay my own rent.”

    Justice added that he picks up commissions for helping sell ads in the football game program and he receives expenses for some personal appearances. No pay is allowed for the appearance itself. He even said that he paid $75 of his own money to buy publicity pictures that the University distributed. Finally came this comment from Charlie’s mom, and Charlie agreed that it was true.

    Said Mrs. Justice, “Duke made the best offer. Wallace Wade and Dan Hill said they would not make a flat offer, but would do anything anyone else would. But Charlie didn’t want to play for Coach Wade.”

    Well, all of the above was a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

  4. I too was struck by the then-and-now coincidence. Money and sports (like money and politics) are not easily separated….
    Jack, you are truly Charlie Justice’s Boswell, and we all benefit from your remarkable memory and insights.

  5. Lew: First, thank you so much for your comment on the Hugh Morton web site about our “North Carolina is My Home” piece. We always appreciate your taking time to read and comment on our efforts. I agree…a project like this one would be impossible today simply because we don’t have anyone who could put forth the kind of effort and talent that Charles and Loonis did.

    On another note: Last week I was researching a piece for the “View to Hugh” web site about the 1948 UNC football team being ranked #1 in the country…the only time that has happened… when I ran across a column by the then Sports Information Director at UNC, Jake Wake. The column, written for the UNC vs. NC State game day program on 10/16/48, offers his take on that “Time” magazine article that we commented on back in 2010. Here is what he said five days after the article came out.

    “Just before the Georgia game, proud, sprightly, unpredictable Time magazine contacted our department for 2,000 words or more on the background of cool, smart, fast, shifty Charlie Justice and his great and good friend, conscientious, hard working, brilliant Coach Carl Snavely.
    “North Carolina’s fattish, late fortyish, eagle-beaked sports publicist obliged in high glee. He worked industriously, gathered figures, searched out anecdotes, burned the midnight oil. Then he waited for Time to appear with its plug to help make Justice an All-America, possibly football’s ‘player of the year.’

    “Time came out, led off with a salute to the World Series, followed with a meager 400 words on Justice, nothing on Snavely. Several paragraphs of Time’s tribute came from other sources than here, were off the beam, somewhat shy of accuracy.

    “But Time now has in its files material, photos, for plenty of future stories on Justice, Snavely, the Tar Heels. If Charlie and the Tar Heels carry on, Time may yet ‘give’ what must have been scheduled two issues ago, (but) got crowded out. These stories can wait, if the Tar Heels roll on.

    “On the other hand, Beattie (Feathers, NC State Head Coach) has warned, and the Wolfpack may be in a mood to make Time turn its attention to other football teams, other coaches and stars, possibly even Feathers and the Wolfpack, their own aces.

    “Football is as unpredictable as magazines, but it sure is fun.”

    As it turned out:
    (1) Carolina beat NC State 14 to 0 that day in Kenan Stadium

    (2) On the day the Time article came out, October 11, 1948, the Associated Press announced that Carolina was their #1 team (Hadn’t happened before, hasn’t happened since)

    (3) At the end of the ’48 season, Justice was a consensus All America on 22 selection teams

    (4) On December 13, 1948, Time did a story titled “Players-Of-The-Year,” which was basically a story about SMU’s great All America Doak Walker; however, they did use a postage-stamp-size Hugh Morton picture of Justice

    (5) Later in December, Justice was selected National Player of the Year and on January 8, 1949 he was honored by the Washington Touchdown Club and presented the Walter Camp Memorial Trophy

    All this, despite a Time magazine article, “somewhat shy of accuracy.”

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